The perils of social media

It’s often said that any published author nowadays has two fulltime jobs – the job where you write stories, and the job where you sell them. Many of us have a third job too – one which does marvellous things like “keep the lights on in our houses” and “lets us eat something other than instant soup for dinner”.
Mmm. Pot noodle…
As time rolls on and publishing evolves, a great deal of responsibility seems to shifting to the author to publicise their own work. Back in the days of cocaine yacht parties and free-range sexual harassment in the workplace (who remembers the eighties?), all an author needed to do was write a book and turn up to the signing appearances. With the advent of the internet and the ability for readers to connect on a daily basis with the authors they read, there’s a growing pressure for authors to have an online presence. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Formspring, Blogs, Vlogs, Websites, MySpace (el oh el) – the list is seemingly endless.
Or is it?
I heard an excellent story about a fellow author who had a fairly frantic social media schedule – blogging and tweeting and vlogging and all of it. The load was so high, this author found themselves spending more time on their social media presence on their actual writing. After all this work, this author sold X books per week, X being a decent figure most folks would be happy with (if indeed you’re someone who draws happiness from such things) but the constant upkeep of all these SM engagements was wearing them thin.
So in a  fit of “GAAAAAAHHHHH”, or the story goes, this author deleted their entire Social media presence in the space of ten minutes. Blog, Twitter, all. And when the smoke cleared, they realised they were still selling around X books per week, X being a decent figure most folks would be happy with (if indeed you’re someone who draws happiness from such things). Except now this author had a boat load more free time to write… books.
Here’s another story. I love Chuck Wendig. Dude is a stone cold cat. I follow him on Twitter and I often check out his latest “25 Things” list over at Terrible Minds – I shudder to think the amount of time he puts into his awesome blog, but it must be simply mind-bending. I find him funny, intelligent and insightful, and the few times we’ve chatted, he’s been a stand-up guy. And here’s the thing – I haven’t read his books. I’ve heard they’re very good. I see him in my feed every day. I like him as a writer and a person… in fact, hell with it, I’m going to go order BLACKBIRDS on Amazon right now…
… back. I owed him that…
BUT, point remains, after having spent all that time reading Sir Wendig’s blog and Twitter feed, I hadn’t actually been compelled to buy his stuff until I just now sat down and guilted myself into it.
I don’t claim these two anecdotes present any kind of evidence. I just find it interesting to speculate about. I’m not really sure anyone knows how effective a strong online presence is – although  I’m almost certain having some presence is better than having none at all – but just because someone follows you on Twitter, doesn’t mean they’re going to buy your book. Just because someone marks it as To Be Read on Goodreads, doesn’t mean they’re actually going to pony up cash for it either. And sure, I’ve had folks tell me they really liked my blog or thought I was mildly amusing on Twitter and bought my book based on that, but how many people have come here and thought I sounded like an absolute prat, and fled my BUY IT NOW button with arms all aflail? It’s not like many of those folks will actually write and tell me my penchant for peepee jokes and profanity scared off a potential sale.
So what’s my point?
I suppose the key point for any writer to keep in mind is Return on Investment. And I don’t want to come off sounding like some a slightly ranty 6’7 accountant by breaking everything down into numbers and dollars, but the truth is we all have a certain amount of time in every day, and many of those are taken up by activities that all essentially sit under the “Stop yourself dying alone” column. The hours you have to actually spend on stuff you want to do are few, and precious. So if you ever find yourself blogging or tweeting when in fact you should be writing, if you ever feel that you MUST go and attend one of your social media engagements, if it starts feeling like a job – something you HAVE to do, rather than WANT to do –  then maybe just… don’t?
I find blogging and tweeting and all that jazz a lot of fun, so here I am. The golden rule is that this gig should be fun. If you’re not having it, then stop doing it.
And if you stop, let us know if you’re still selling X copies per month. 😀

32 Responses to “The perils of social media”

  1. In a word, that’s some dandy advice. OK, in four words, but still.

  2. Alan says:

    Question is, when Mr X stopped all his blogging and tweeting and was still selling X copies a month, was that *because* of the fan base he’d built with all the social media in the first place. It’s a very hard thing to judge.

    • It’s very hard to judge, yeah. Logically, the people who had already engaged via SM would have been more likely to buy the books already. But, as my Chuck Wendig example illustrates, not always.
      Like I say, I think it’s better to have a presence than not. But if said presence is eating into the time when you should be writing books, it get harder to justify the investment of time.

  3. sam says:

    I tend to really only follow people who I already read, but I will say I’ve bought OTHER authors books based on social media recommendations from authors I follow. But I will agree I don’t think I’ve ever followed someone, and then said “man I like how this person tweets, I’m gonna go buy their book”. That said I had the awesome pleasure of reading Stormdancer because I saw Kevin Hearne blog about it. But I do agree it’s better to write the book that the fans are waiting for than tweet random musings.

    • I agree totally. Author advocacy is a huge boon – if an author i really respect recs a book, I’m probably going to check it out. I think that’s a real important distinction to make too – advocacy versus blurbing. They’re two very different things. but that’s probably a topic for another post.

  4. Personally, I found myself interested in your book when I first saw the cover and read the synopsis on some book blog or another (before the release). Then, I saw it featured on another blog. It was then that I decided to check who the author was and I stumble upon your website. Truthfully, your website and your online presence made me pre-order your book. I still haven’t read it, but it’s on my to-read shelf.
    So yes, to some degree, social media is important. I think it all depends on your demographics. Also, I think it’s important that not only you, but other people are blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. about your book. Word of mouth can exist online too…

    • Oh totally. Word of mouth is probably the biggest single seller for any book over a long enough timeline. It’s one thing to be drawn in by marketing or funky covers or whatever. But if a friend you respect tells you “holy CRAP, you’ve gotta read this book”, that’s probably worth a thousand amusing tweets.

  5. hrose2931 says:

    Well said! Er written!

  6. Cass says:

    Based on my observations with Stormdancer, I think the online presence enables the word of mouth of others. I know when I posted on my FB page that I got my ARC, one of the ladies I used to work with asked me to let her know afterwards whether it matched up to the hype. But the only hype she’d been exposed to was me sharing the various competitions and the trailer (I was very proud I’d generated hype!). Whether she then went and bought the book I don’t know, but I have two other friends that definitely did, who again only found out about it because of what I was sharing or via your blog and Facebook page themselves.
    I agree with you about one thing: don’t use social media as an excuse to procrastinate!

    • Yup totally – but that’s a different kind of online presence. Reader advocacy is HUGE, and it’s worth a whole lot more than having a cool blog or an amusing twitter feed or whatever. Having people who really loved your book go out and tell their friends and family “I really loved this book, you should check it out” is the single strongest kind of advertising there is. People are more inclined to trust their friends than some banner ad.
      So thanks for the pimpage! 🙂

  7. Writing a novel is a tough journey. When you add blogging, tweeting, facebooking and etc. It’s only tougher. Each writer has to pick their own path and stick with it until there is a need for change.

  8. Kelley says:

    Yeah, really great points! I follow many authors but I haven’t read books written by all of them. Maybe they’re just interesting people? Although I do think that having an online presence helps more people find out about your book(s). I mean, like you said, it’s about balancing your life.

  9. violafury says:

    Hi there, here’s your bowl of crazy, shown up to agree and not all at the same time. It all depends on why one writes. Writing to sell books is all very well, but I happen to know that you and Mr. “X” are also dedicated to creating lovely prose and gripping stories. You could social-media out the ass with the entire universe. You might still sell “X” number of books, but I’m betting the house the demographics might be a bit, um weird. The Tweeterverse may be more of the blunt-pencil and crayola set. I think readers and authors are a very affable sort and forgiving as well. If you evaporate due to the muse, bills, and all that, they forgive easily.
    I think too, that we labor under the constraints of the old work and societal mores.. We “must” always be in the same place at the same time; a holdover from brick-and-mortar work ethic, when we all did that. I always feel vaguely guilty over that, although I haven’t held a job where I actually commuted since 2004.

    • I think that’s actually a really interesting point. Maybe these writers who seem to feel compelled to dance the dance of social media despite overwhelming time constraints and waning enthusiasm do it because it present evidence of industry? If they’re tweeting/blogging, then they’re still alive, probably still writing their next book? They’re seen to be working (even though the value of said work might not be huge)?

  10. Chuck Wendig says:

    Interesting post!
    You’re right that Twitter followers and blog hits don’t translate to direct sales (elsewise I’d be selling between 15k and 250k of my books).
    That said, also be wary of the danger of, “I read his blog and didn’t buy the book until now, which means that must be true of everyone.”
    The blog and Twitter and all that stuff creates an overall aggregate for me that has a somewhat radiant, resonating effect. People read my blog and may not buy initially but over time jump into the fray with one or a few of my books and that, ideally, is all it takes. And a lot of my very strong reviews have been from people who also read and like the blog.
    Would I have still sold as much if I didn’t have all that? Entirely possible. But I doubt it. I’ve gotten a lot of attention for these books from people I met only on Twitter or only through the blog. And when I meet people at conferences/conventions, I’m amazed at how many of them came to me through the blog.
    Also: my first novel sales were helped by the blog. I know that, because they told me that. It was clear I had a channel in which my signal could be heard above the noise. In theory, at least. Hell, even my agent was pleased with my social media presence, and contributed to it.
    Your original point stands, of course — the priority is writing books, not writing blogs. (And it remains my priority, too. This year along I’ll have written… four novels, one novella, one script, one comic script, etc.) I spend usually one day a week really working the blog content. And Twitter is a remarkably minimal investment, equivalent to waggling my toes in a fast-moving river.
    — c.

    • Hey Chuck,
      No doubt, I don’t count my experience as gospel (although I’m glad I bought Blackbirds now, you have told me you were coming over, I would’ve tidied the joint up a bit), just an interesting point of speculation. I’d love to have some concrete data on it, but that’d involve finding some authors willing to build up on online presence then go cold turkey on it and compare post/pre sales and I don’t like my chances of that. Until then, it’s all just jawing.
      It’s interesting that you spend a solid day every week on the (100% awesome) blog. I’d actually be really interested in estimates from other authors how many hours they spend a week on SM. Maybe I’ll add that to my repertoire of “drunken author conversations” for cons. 🙂

  11. neyska says:

    Keeping up with social media actually does feel like a drain a lot, but at the same time, I do enjoy interacting with people I meet there. I’ve read a lot of opinions going both ways on the subject and I tend to think the results are somewhat negligible. However, I did buy your book because I liked the voice and personality in your blog, so… I guess you can’t know for sure how it’s going to work. 🙂
    Damn. I guess I better keep blogging. *sigh*

    • Yep, no doubt, I’ve had quite a few folks say the same thing. And in terms of publicity teams at my various houses, they’ve all been super-jazzed at the online presence I’ve made – even though they may not fully understand how effective (or not) it might be, it’s still a good string to have on your bow.
      *wha-ksssssshhhh!* Back to work!

  12. And never the twain shall meet, eh? I concur. Social media can be great for connecting with other writers, but readers seem to tend not to give a damn.

  13. Heh-heh… interesting angle while I’m in the middle of… er… social media promo for my new novel! 😉

  14. I know how much time I spend on my blog and it is CRAZY and I too am trying to do other things . So I totally get that whole lets go crazy and delete all SM. Blogs can evolve in to time sucking monsters, like fb etc….
    The more I learned about the publishing world, I was quite stunned. I thought you get published, go on whatever tours the publisher deems necessary and write to your hearts content in the mean time behind the scenes. I started blogging two years ago and didn’t take long to realise authors are doing it for themselves for the most part with SM. That is sounding a bit BDSM isn’t it, SOCIAL MEDIA = SM.
    I went to a book signing in little ol Brisvegas ( Brisbane QLD) a year or so ago. You will be able to tell which one as I videoed it. Anyhoo this author from USA told us how there were A B C levels . I was like WT?? What is this? She was originally a C which means you do a LOT of your own SM. By the time you get to an A, you are doing much much less. Even though I know of A’s that are on twitter doing it for the fans regularly. But again a lot of time.
    Chuck I need to read his books. I have Miriam Black # 1. My girls over at Talk Supe they love Chuck so they pass on these things of importance to me. I just need to crack Blackbirds open and go forth.
    I have just learnt the horrors of all sorts in the last couple of days of bogus Amazon reviews and all sorts of evils that is going on . I am quite devastated to read some big authors admitting to naughty goings on and some publishers getting caught doing naughty things…but that is for another posting:)

  15. Jaystalker says:

    I agree!! haha Im reading your blog and havent read your book yet. BUT I WILL!! I love your blog.
    Im a nearly author – I will probably self publish because Im just too lazy to find an agent. but for years now I’ve been writting fanfiction on two websites so I’ve been getting myself known. I already have a fanbase and they all know I’ve got a novel that I want to publish (because Im always telling them) and. I do blog for them, regarding the fanfiction Im writing. What I’ve discovered is they are reading my style and seeing if I can write an actual story and they like my stuff which is the best encouragement.
    I don’t tweet – again too lazy, so I think the blogs and stuff is really aimed at those who are already fans, to connect with them and make them feel loved and appreciated. When an author that Im reading blogs I feel that they know who I am and they care and that’s nice.
    Great topic! thanks for blogging!
    ps I’ve downloaded ebook Stormdander because I felt bad!

  16. drey says:

    Love this post! I blog, and even I sometimes want to just throw in the towel on the “extras” – twitter, fb, g+. But I’m addicted. Not to the urge to share, but to the stalking. After all, w/o SM, I never would’ve found half the authors I’ve come to enjoy – or maybe it would’ve taken me so much longer to do the finding. Like you, for example. A fb-fan of mine messaged me about Stormdancer, because I didn’t have it (yet) included in my monthly releases album. So I looked it up, added it, and stalked you. When Kevin Hearne (whom I also found via SM) said “Go read this book!” I was doubly-sold. Loved the book, too. 🙂
    I think in this day and age, when everything is available on the interwebz, not having at least one form of interwebz presence is a limitation. I’m not saying you have to be everywhere, but you have to be at least somewhere. Because this is the age of instant gratification after all.
    In any case. I’m glad you like SM. It makes the stalking go so much smoother. 😀

  17. Rachel says:

    I always say my number one advice for aspiring writers: write. Sure, there’s plenty more great advice, but that’s kinda the single most important step!

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